Chemistry in Your Coffee Mug

Too much coffee actually can kill you, but that’s not the most important thing about the chemistry of coffee.

For most of us brewing a hot cup of joe and enjoying the energy jolt it brings is essential to our mornings. That jolt comes from chemistry, in the molecular form of caffeine.

Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee and is intensified through the bean-roasting process. Because caffeine is an essential component of the coffee plant, it’s impossible to entirely remove it from your coffee beans, if you happen to be a decaf lover. The decaffeination process involves soaking the unroasted beans in hot water and then using a solvent to extract the caffeine (more about the different methods here).

The chemistry of coffee doesn’t end with the roasting. Chemistry teacher Andy Brunning outlines the science behind the perfect cup of coffee in The Guardian, where he talks about what makes coffee taste bitter, whether adding salt tempers that bitterness, and the science behind milk and sugar additions.

And then, of course, there’s the possibility of death. Paracelsus is credited with the concept “the dose makes the poison,” an adage that has guided discussions of nontoxic versus toxic ingestions ever since. But be forewarned, in a row to reach the point of death. And that seems unlikely.

No matter how you take your coffee, it always comes with one thing: chemistry.

Emilie Haertsch

is the Institute’s communications coordinator.